The trial of Ethiopian bloggers known as Zone 9 was adjourned yet again Monday after prosecutors failed to amend terrorism charges as ordered by the court. The development raises the likelihood that some charges against the young bloggers and journalists may be dropped.
The six members of the Zone 9 blogging collective and three affiliated journalists were imprisoned in April, accused of using social media to incite violence in Ethiopia. They were charged under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law in July. This was the 15th adjournment of their trial, now due to resume January 14.
Ameha Mekonnen, the attorney for eight of the nine defendants, said “this is the last chance” for the prosecution to amend charges. If that’s not done by the next hearing, he said, the judges will exclude them. One is related to digital training allegedly received by the journalists.
The court on Monday accepted other charges: that the defendants formed a clandestine organization, incited, attempted and organized damage to the community, and planned terrorist acts as outlined in Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism proclamation.
Ameha said it would be good for the Zone 9 bloggers and journalists if the prosecution fails to amend the remaining charges.
"It has got only six types of human behaviors that are regarded as terrorist acts," he said. "… The law itself is not clear – simply, if someone plots to cause damage to the community, it amounts to terrorism."
Criticized as vague
International human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism proclamation for its vagueness and its use as a tool to silence dissident.
In a recent study, the Committee to Protect Journalists lists Ethiopia as one of the countries with the most imprisoned journalists.
Ethiopia’s government insists that those arrested are criminals and not journalists.